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Blue Ridge Community College: Supporting a growing program and industry

Horticulture is defined as the education, business, technology, and science of plants. Horticulture students at Blue Ridge Community College learn the business of managing and using what is grown while maintaining the health of the soil, air, and water and the well-being of communities. At Blue Ridge, it's all about the plants. 

Their horticulture program dates back to 1970, with strawberry production as the first course offered. After joining the horticulture program in 2020 as its lead faculty, my charge was to build community partnerships and develop and tailor courses to meet the growing needs of the partners. I began by strategically developing courses that would support current and future greenhouse growers who critically need well-educated workers to fill the multitude of jobs available. 

The number of new commercial growers in the region is increasing, and current growers are expanding their operations. Blue Ridge educates newly trained professionals to fill these high-tech jobs while also providing continuing education to help current employees advance their careers. From design to arboriculture, qualified graduates can work in a variety of arenas, from small-scale outdoor farming to massive indoor productions such as Van Wingerden and BrightFarms. Horticulture degrees can also prepare a student to work in residential and commercial landscaping.  

To help students customize their training to match their employment goals, Blue Ridge offers an associate degree in horticulture with the ability to stack credentials. In other words, they can choose to specialize in a particular area by selecting specific electives. Students who take advantage of this opportunity are able to receive a certificate in addition to their degree in areas such as Greenhouse Automation, Landscape Design, Ornamental Plant Production, Small Fruits/Specialty Crops, and Turfgrass Management.  

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